Words by: James Noyes
The Mars Volta :: 12.31.07 :: Bill Graham Civic Auditorium :: San Francisco, CA
"Join us in bringing in the New Year with a night of ocular penetration," read the program, and the night delivered on that strange promise. With the help of The Eternals and Peanut Butter Wolf, The Mars Volta threw the biggest party of their career. Playing both an acoustic and a full electric set, they displayed a new type of energy onstage, a far cry from their old routine of two hour shows with no opener, zero stage banter and seeming obliviousness to the audience's presence.
| The Mars Volta :: 12.31.07 by Juliette Rapala|
The acoustic set was a first for the band, and a truly special experience to witness. Vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala really stood out in this context with some of the strongest, most impressive singing to date. The set featured two first-ever performances: the haunting "Miranda, That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" and a new piece that apparently isn't even on their upcoming The Bedlam in Goliath (set for release on January 29 through UMVD). It will be interesting to follow the future of this song, which is easily their most accessible since "The Widow." If it ever gets a studio release they could have a huge radio hit on their hands.
The audience didn't want to party nearly as much as The Eternals, who fused together hip-hop, spoken word, dub and funky drum-and-bass jams, but Peanut Butter Wolf brought everyone back. His set was a series of music videos that he spun like records, creating bridges between hip-hop, metal and bluegrass in a truly original musical experience.
The full electric Mars Volta set marked a dramatic shift from the band's general attack. Favoring variety over monster jams, they tore relentlessly through 15 songs in an exhausting two and half hour set. Their formerly serious onstage persona was also scrapped when the band came out masked, chatty and ready to party. Though the masks were gone by the end of the first song, the festive atmosphere remained and the band was a blast to watch.
The eight songs played from the upcoming Bedlam in Goliath reinforced what fans have suspected for months: the album is going to be a powerhouse. All of the new material was well-received, although the band played best during the tight, hard-grooving "Ouroboros" and the album opener "Aberinkula." The latter had a shockingly powerful ending, and stood out as the strongest new piece of the night.
The band was as strong as it's ever been. Having eight members onstage is more than a little chaotic, but there is more of a method to the madness than before. Back-up guitarist Paul Hinojos has finally been turned up so that you can actually hear his riffs under Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's wild guitar solos. Saxophonist-flautist Adrian Terrazas elevated his instruments beyond frantic soloing, adding new textures to every song. I heard some complaints about the show being too loud or the mix being too muddy, but from my spot in front of the soundboard everything came through clearly, if loudly, except sadly Ikey Owens' keyboards.
Much of the band's newfound energy came from new drummer Thomas Pridgen, the 24 year old prodigy who joined in March. He may actually be a robot from the future, as I don't know if humans can pummel the drums that hard and fast for two and half straight hours and survive. Fans debate endlessly over whether he or previous full-time drummer Jon Theodore is a better fit for the band, but for my money Pridgen brings a wholly new, exciting sound to the band. For the entire concert his power and ability held me transfixed.
Outside of the new material, they focused mostly on the big songs from Amputechture, with an absolutely explosive "Tetragrammaton." In a great touch, the bookends of the set were their two oldest and biggest live staples. "Roulette Dares" was as energetic an opener as its ever been, and as its ending jam faded into electronica, Bixler-Zavala began the countdown. With a shower of balloons, high-fives and hugs, the band, friends and fans ushered in 2008. A massive "Drunkship of Lanterns" finished the night with an original improvised hard rock midsection and machine gun finale.
Departing the stage at 2:15 a.m., there was no encore, their standard policy for almost five years. Nobody complained after almost seven hours on our feet. Many, myself included, had barely enough energy to applaud. I left immediately, exhausted but satisfied, sacrificing the final DJ set for desperately needed sleep. In my dreams danced visions of 2008 and the new Volta epoch.
12.31.07 :: Bill Graham Civic Auditorium :: San Francisco, CA
Intro, Televators, Cedric talks about a toy guitar given to Omar by an audience member, The Widow, Cedric talks, Miranda, That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore, Cedric talks, Asilos Magdalena, Cedric talks, Vermicide, Cedric Talks, New Song
Intro, Roulette Dares, New Year's Countdown and Mini-jam, Viscera Eyes, Wax Simulacra, Goliath, Conjugal Burns, Tetragrammaton, Agadez, Metatron, Cygnus Intro, Cygnus, Ourobouros, Ilyena, Meccamputechture, Aberinkula, Day of the Baphomets, Drunkship of Lanterns
-First ever acoustic set
-Debut of acoustic versions of Televators, Asilos, Vermicide, Miranda, and a new song
-First live performances of Miranda, as well as a new song
Thanks to astronationoftheunitedworlds.blogspot.com for set list.
The Mars Volta tour dates available here.
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